By Dylan Butler
PORTLAND, OR -- Second in the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, Costa Rica is hoping to ride its current form to a first-ever Gold Cup title.
Headlining the Ticos roster for the competition is the scoring tandem of Alvaro Saborio from Real Salt Lake and Columbus Crew forward Jairo Arrieta.
In 85 national team appearances, Saborio has 30 goals, good for third all-time on the Ticos scoring list. The 31-year-old forward said he is looking forward to playing Belize at Rio Tinto Stadium in the group stage.
“It’s very exciting to play here, in my stadium and with my fans,” Saborio recently told the website of his club Real Salt Lake , referring to the July 13 game. “Hopefully my fans go with the national team and we can win here.”
Portland Timbers midfielder Rodney Wallace will have a similar chance when Costa Rica meets Cuba at JELD-WEN Field on Tuesday.
Costa Rica enters the tournament with a five-game unbeaten streak, which includes a scoreless draw against Mexico in Estadio Azteca on June 11. While the Ticos are excited about the prospects of a fourth-ever qualification to the World Cup, the focus right now is squarely on the Gold Cup.
“You have to fight for it. Our goal is to achieve top rankings, that is our commitment, our desire, our fight and we’re working,” said Colombian-born coach Jorge Luis Pinto, who guided Costa Rica to the UNCAF Copa Centroamericana title in January. “Whoever thinks otherwise you must leave this place to another.”
Costa Rica also features influential midfielder Celso Borges, who scored in a 2-0 win over Panama in the Ticos last match June 18, and veteran defender Michael Umaña, who has 69 caps and is one of four Saprissa players on the roster.
Borges plays for AIK in Sweden and scored a pair of goals in helping lead the Ticos to the 2009 Gold Cup semifinals.
“The team has been working very solid from the [Mexico] tie and I feel that in this process we do have the conditions to win the [Gold] Cup,” he said.
A few players, like defender Juan Diego Madrigal, midfielders Oscar Esteban Granados, Osvaldo Rodriguez and Mauricio Castillo and forwards Kenny Cunningham and Yendrick Ruiz all have less than 10 caps.
Some of the younger players will try to give Pinto something to think about when World Cup qualification continues in September. For that reason, the coach is expecting to tweak his lineup from match to match.
“The competition is different, but it helps us to see players competing,” Pinto said. “If I can rotate four or five per game, that will give a chance to see them all.”